Book #99 – Lolita

250fullWhen we were in second year in college, Dave studied Lolita as part of his English course. I had always wanted to read it, so I asked could I borrow it once the semester was finished, and he said sure. I got about three-quarters of the way through, and then promptly forgot about it, so it sat on my bedroom floor until this summer, when I had to clear my bedroom, and came across it again.
I read it then over the next week (although I still haven’t given it back to Dave) and finished it with a weird sort of confusion in my head.
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English & published in 1955 in Paris, in 1958 in NY & in 1959 in London. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist & unreliable narrator, a 37–38-year-old literature professor, Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores (both the name & nickname are of Spanish origin).
After its publication, Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known & most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name “Lolita” has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, & again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage & has been the subject of two operas, two ballets & an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.
Lolita is included on Time’s List of the 100 Best Novels in English-language from 1923 to 2005. It’s 4th on the Modern Library’s 1998 list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century. It was also included in the 100 Best Books of All Time, compiled in 2002 by the Norwegian Book Club.

The story of Lolita itself is a strange and disturbing one, in which Humber Humbert becomes obsessed with his stepdaughter Dolores Haze and begins a sexual relationship with her as they travel the country, avoiding the authorities and, well, the story isn’t that important, to be honest.

The whole book left me with a nasty feeling in my head and an awful taste in my mouth – narrator Humbert Humbert is, of course, supposed to be unreliable and certainly not a character with whom one can truly relate. Lolita, Dolly, Dolores, is a truculent, sexually precocious and beguiling character who enchants Humbert, manipulating him into all sorts of things and captivating his attention entirely.

To say I enjoyed Lolita would be a downright lie. The subject matter is disturbing, the characterisation is downright wrong, the portrayal of a pre-teen girl (even through the eyes of Humbert Humbert) as a conniving, seductive, manipulative woman when she’s really nothing more than a child is downright wrong. The book has always been, and will always be, controversial because of its subject matter.
The book never condones Humbert’s actions – the ending, in fact, is full of rueful recollections, although whether that’s because of what he did, or because of how it turned out, I don’t really know. The writing is beautiful, evocative, the imagery wonderful, and the skill of Nabokov’s pen in getting into Humbert’s head certainly explains why Lolita makes it onto so many lists of Best Novels and has gained such acclaim and so many adaptations.

I can’t think about the book, though, or its technical proficiency, or anything about it, without thinking of how truly disturbing the subject matter is. Yes, it’s a masterpiece of 20th century fiction, but God, it left me with such an uncomfortable feeling after reading it.

Three Stars
***

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